Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

An exploratory survey measuring stigma and discrimination experienced by people living with HIV/AIDS in South Africa: the People Living with HIV Stigma Index

Monika ML dos Santos1*, Pieter Kruger1, Shaun E Mellors2, Gustaaf Wolvaardt3 and Elna van der Ryst4

Author Affiliations

1 Psychology Department, University of South Africa, PO Box 392, 0004 Pretoria, South Africa

2 International HIV/AIDS Alliance, Hove, UK

3 Foundation for Professional Development (FPD), Pretoria, South Africa

4 Independent Consultant, The Research Network, Sandwich, UK

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BMC Public Health 2014, 14:80  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-80

Published: 27 January 2014



The continued presence of stigma and its persistence even in areas where HIV prevalence is high makes it an extraordinarily important, yet difficult, issue to eradicate. The study aimed to assess current and emerging HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination trends in South Africa as experienced by people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIV).


The PLHIV Stigma Index, a questionnaire that measures and detects changing trends in relation to stigma and discrimination experienced by PLHIV, was used as the survey tool. The study was conducted in 10 clinics in four provinces supported by the Foundation for Professional Development (FPD), with an interview total of 486 PLHIV. A cross-sectional design was implemented in the study, and both descriptive and inferential analysis was conducted on the data.


Findings suggest that PLHIV in this population experience significant levels of stigma and discrimination that negatively impact on their health, working and family life, as well as their access to health services. Internalised stigma was prominent, with many participants blaming themselves for their status.


The findings can be used to develop and inform programmes and interventions to reduce stigma experienced by PLHIV. The current measures for dealing with stigma should be expanded to incorporate the issues related to health, education and discrimination experienced in the workplace, that were highlighted by the study.

HIV/AIDS; Stigma; Discrimination; South African context